Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Limiting nontherapeutic antibiotics in meat

U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter this week proposed a bill to limit nontherapeutic use of antibiotics in meat production. Sen. Edward Kennedy has proposed similar legislation in the Senate.

Nontherapeutic use is the dose of antibiotics routinely given to animals to enhance growth, especially in factory farm settings that bring a high risk of disease. Scientists suspect that such routine use encourages antibiotic resistance in pathogens, which evolve to survive the effects of the medicine.

Reuters reports:
The bill, introduced in the House of Representatives by Louise Slaughter and in the Senate by Edward Kennedy, would ban the use of antibiotics important to human health from being used on cattle, hogs, sheep and poultry unless animals are ill.

Drug manufacturers would be allowed to sell antibiotics for uses other than humans if they can show there is no danger to public health from microbes developing resistance to them.

"We're up against a pretty strong lobby. It will really come down to whether members of Congress want to protect their constituents or agribusiness," said Slaughter. "I do believe the chance are good, at least getting it through the House."

The bill has been introduced several times since the 1980s but has been blocked by agribusiness interests.

An estimated 70 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States go toward healthy livestock, according to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Proponents of the ban say antibiotics are given to healthy animals over a long period of time to compensate for unsanitary and crowded conditions, and to promote weight gain, rather than to combat an illness.

The concern is that the overuse of antibiotics in animals leads to new strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. As a result, people may be at risk of becoming sick by handling, eating meat or coming in contact with animals that have an antibiotic-resistant disease.
Does the defense by Dave Warner at the National Pork Producers Council make sense?

Dave Warner, a spokesman with the National Pork Producers Council, defended his industry.

He said 95 percent of antibiotics given to pigs are for preventing, controlling or treating disease.
If nontherapeutic use in pigs is negligible, as he says, then surely this bill is harmless from the industry perspective, right? Er, not quite:
If the bill goes into effect, Warner said piglet deaths would go up, producer costs would rise, meat output would drop and consumers would see prices climb.
All from reining in a practice that he describes as rare? Perhaps Warner is trying to slip the routine practice of giving antibiotics to healthy animals under the heading of "preventing" disease.

See also Tom Philpott's coverage at Grist.

8 comments:

Gretchen Miller said...

Thanks for posting this, Parke. The other lobby that is going to have a lot to say about it is the pharmaceutical industry. The 70 percent of all antibiotics used for non-therapeutic use in livestock production statistic is actually just referring to use in cows, hogs, and poultry. According the UCS, total non-therapeutic use in livestock production is closer to 78% of all antibiotics consumed in the U.S., if I'm reading the numbers correctly (found in the report, "Hogging It."). This of course is just an estimate, and only one of maybe two or three estimates out there. There is no national tracking system for antibiotic consumption making it really difficult to have a true understanding of what the breakdown in numbers actually are. But suffice to say whether non-therapeutic livestock use accounts for 78%, 70%, or 30% of all uses, the pharmaceutical companies have a significant stake in the outcome of this legislation.

The last time the bill was introduced (2007) it didn't even make it out of committee. Possibly with the many recent food safety scares, it will make it a bit further this time, but I'm skeptical. However, I think one thing the introduction of this bill will do is shine a light on (or continue to shine a light on) the unsustainable production methods currently relied upon in livestock agriculture. And if this exact bill doesn't make it through congress, possibly something slightly less restrictive but still going in the right direction will.

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Walter Jeffries said...

Thank you for this article. We need to express our support for them. I have written to Senator Edwards and Representative Slaughter as well as to my Congressional critters:

I am a member of the NHNPC and an independent pork producer. I strongly disagree with the National Pork Producers Council (NNPC) position on antibiotics (and a lot of other things). As a farmer, a consumer, a parent and a citizen I urge you to ban the sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock (same for humans). This is especially imporant with types of antibiotics used to treat human diseases.

Note that I am not one of your constituents, I'm in neighboring Vermont, but this issue is very important and I have previously written to my representative and senators about this. I write to you because I heard that you are introducing legislation to band the use of antibiotics. I urge you on with this important issue. I realize you will get a lot of opposition from the NNPC with their high paid Big Ag lobbyists but please get this bill through.

While I have your attention, I urge you to also oppose the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) and defund it. It is for the benefit of Big Ag but will burden small producers. Virtually all food born illness comes after the animals leave the farm, introduced at the processing facility or later. If Big Ag wants NAIS, which they do for foreign marketing purposes, then they should be the ones to fund it. NAIS should not be force on small farmers - we don't need foreign markets, we aren't the source of the disease and NAIS is an inefficient, burdensome non-solution. See http://NoNAIS.org

Cheers,

-Walter Jeffries
Sugar Mountain Farm
Pastured Pigs & Sheep
in the mountains of Vermont
http://SugarMtnFarm.com

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Bob said...

Can you tell us what Antibiotics you are referring to? Is is my understanding that Zero antibiotics used in human health are used for sub-therapeutic growth promotion in farm animals. Also what about antibiotic resistant genes found in normal soil bacteria? Are we going to ban soil or keep our livestock off soil?
Thanks you.

Anonymous said...

do you think use of non therapeutic antibiotic should be banned in farm animals?

Mila said...

Please could you please let me know what is the situation with the Bill limiting nontherapeutic antibiotics in meat? Has it been passed? thanks, a lot!